Important encounters are planned by the souls long before their bodies see each other – Paulo Coelho
I cannot remember the first time I met my friend, Ted. But I knew of him long before I shook his hand. He was a living legend in the community I had come to call home.
COL (R) Ted Crozier served in the Army for 32 years. He actually enlisted at the end of WWII, but did not fight overseas. “Wild Turkey,” as he was called, would occasionally remind others that he wasn’t just a Korean and Vietnam Veteran, but also served our nation on the home front during WWII. I never perceived his reminders as being gruff – merely a reminder to us that every single person in uniform counted regardless of where they were geographically located.
I was a little star struck sitting in his presence. He was the first commander of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, the first aviator to be chosen to serve as the Chief of Staff of the 101st Airborne Division. After 32 years of service in uniform, Wild Turkey served 8 years as Mayor. I didn’t move to Clarksville until well after he left the office of Mayor. Being a graduate student at the local university, I didn’t pay much attention to the political feel of the community. In my 22 year old mind, this was just a three year stop on my life’s journey. Twenty-four years later, this is my community. This is my home. And Wild Turkey helped solidify that.
Perhaps I was partly endeared to him because I didn’t grow up with grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was a WWII Veteran who passed away when I was 18 months old and the older I became, the more I realized what I missed. I enjoy the story telling wisdom of the past generations. As a professional listener, I love being in the presence of someone who shares their life experiences.
COL Ted was someone I would hang onto his every word. I couldn’t wait to see what visions and dreams he had and what list he had conjured up. Ted was passionate. Passionate about so many things over the decades; but what I came to know his passion to be was the mental health care of our service members.
Ted served on the Board of Directors of a little non-profit I had dreamed up in 2006 – SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced. I ran it as a little grassroots organization, recruiting licensed mental health providers to see active duty Soldiers, Veterans and their loved ones pro bono. I soon realized the mental health providers weren’t well versed in military culture or the specific needs of this population, so I began traveling the state to educate other professionals. SAFE would eventually merge with a similar organization, the Lazarus Project. When the organizations merged under the name and 501(c)3 of SAFE, our Board of Directors grew.
Essentially, the growth and success of SAFE had everything to do with the envelopes covered in names Ted would jot down throughout the days and evenings. He was a connector. A leader. An influencer. And given the respect and admiration he had across the nation, those names were names of other highly regarded individuals.
I recall having a conversation with a new board member and thanking him for his commitment to serve. He responded, “When Wild Turkey calls, you don’t say no. You figure it out and make it work.”
Ted would randomly call with varieties of ideas – from forming choirs with older Veterans (he loved to jump into song) to connecting me with a master in Kung Fu who might help me with my clients. He later said I could use Kung Fu to keep my clients toeing the line or have the master teach my clients the art.
He was never short of ideas and I think that’s why I connected with him so deeply. He wasn’t afraid to pitch his dreams to a group of people. His suggestions weren’t always polished, but he felt an urgency to share them. I believe he knew if he could lay them out for others there was more of a possibility of them coming to fruition and help others. His visions were never selfish. They were always about the greater good and for the greater good. Do something good for someone today. If you ever called Wild Turkey and got his voicemail, you would hear his enthusiastic message about making the world a better place and doing something nice for someone today. He lived his voicemail message.
Ted made you feel special – as if you were the only one he could depend upon to bring life to his ideas. But he was a strategist – he knew he had to share his thoughts with many…plant the seed across the acres, having a better chance for it to root and grow.
Ted fought tirelessly for the care of our Warriors. Even after I left SAFE, he would call me to check in, to connect me and to encourage me. He shared with many of us that until we started talking about all this “PTS & D stuff, I thought I was just crazy – but I guess I probably had some of that, too.” I would assure him that he was still “just crazy.” And give him a big hug shared with laughter.
Wild Turkeys fly despite the weight they carry. They may not appear graceful…but they get it done. Don’t worry, Wild Turkey, we’ll continue the mission. We’ll get it done. I know you’ll ensure that. And until we meet again, Sir, I will Believe, Create, and Live in an effort to honor your work.
© Rebecca G. Townsend 2017